Until that Promised Day

In my last post, I mentioned Maxim an individual I taught on my mission whom I recently discovered had tragically died. I wrote a poem in honor of him and wanted to post it here.

 

Maxim

A light glowing in a dream

A chance to soar and to fly

The water beckons you to try

Despite the demons circling round

Mocking and denying the truth you’ve found

For just a moment you are free

Midst the darkness you briefly see

And feel the love of Gethsemane 

The one who suffered for you and me

And though through his hands they drove the nails

His courage did not fail

And as his parting words were spoken

Yet his legs remained unbroken 

And the day will soon come

When you will once again be free to run

And look upon the mercy seat

And fall and worship at his feet

One day because of him we will rise

And I will look into your eyes

Farewell until that promised day

God be with you till we meet again I pray

 

Pioneers of faith

As this week we celebrated pioneer day, I thought a lot about what it means to be a modern day pioneer. President Monson had a wonderful home teaching message for July about being a modern day pioneer in an age of indifference and amorality. However, being a pioneer in relationship to the world is only part of the picture. The part that is most challenging is not the external struggles, persecution or mobs. The taunting and jeering that I felt from family or some friends only helped confirm to me that the church was true. Opposition in so many ways has helped to enlarge my testimony as no faith promoting account could. As the world grows darker, the light of the Gospel for me only grows darker…

The harder part of being a modern day pioneer is the internal spiritual journey. The fear of failing or falling short that never fully leaves. The worry that your future children will not appreciate what you have fought and sacrificed for. The fear that one day it will be for naught…. For me, those are the difficult parts of being a pioneer of faith. Stepping out into the spiritual void and hoping and wondering… Feeling like you are walking on water and hoping you do not start to sink.

This week was an emotion one for me as two events intersected. Last Saturday a friend of mine Victor who is from the Russian town of Angarsk was baptized here in Provo. I had known him when I first started my mission as he would come to the English club in Irkutsk each week. I helped teach him both in Russia and in Provo. Before baptism, he had really struggled to take that step of faith. He knew a lot about the Church but always seemed to need to see or hear or receive something more before baptism. I was so proud to see him enter the water’s of baptism as were the almost dozen individuals in attendance whom had taught Victor at some point as a missionary. Victor’s journey on the straight and narrow path begins. If he continues faithfully, I know he will be an instrument in the hands of God to bless many. He will bring countless to Christ;..Yet it is always melancholy knowing  that Satan does not and can not stop. One righteous pioneer influences thousands of souls and countless generations, and so he will keep trying to lead astray.

In stark contrast to the baptism of Victor, this week I also heard about a tragedy. Maxim an individual that I had taught in Krasnoyark passed away. Maxim was one investigator that really meant the world to me. I met him my first day in the city. He was blind and sat in a wheel chair as well having lost his leg to frostbite. Maxim was homeless and living in an assisted living center. Thought he couldn’t read, we got him an MP3 player with the Book of Mormon on it. He devoured it and each time we met with him he was filled with greater joy. When he first came to the church building he became emotional and spoke about how it felt like home. We helped him to quit smoking and the branch president helped him get a passport so he could qualify for benefits. Maxim showed incredible faith preparing for baptism. I was honored to help him enter the waters of baptism as another convert Mixail baptized him. I also confirmed him and gave him the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And yet, tragically Satan continued to try to pull him back down. An old girlfriend came back into his life and led him back to drinking, drugs and sexual relations. I left the city, but heard of these developments and wished I could help him. He had so much promise and in him I saw how the gospel could change lives. One day, I am sure that I will see Maxim again on the other side of the veil. We will embrace and see eye to eye. Even though he made choices that took him away from God, I will never forget how his countenance radiated as he exited the waters after his baptism. His life was touched by the light of the gospel. He too was a pioneer even if he eventually lost his way.

I have a strong testimony that we are all in fact pioneers building the Kingdom of God. In each and every calling and in our day to day lives we are helping to establish Zion. What we do blesses generation. It truly matters. I am so grateful for the Gospel of Christ and all the blessings I have received because of it.

 

Response to the New York TImes Article about Mormonism and Doubt

I had several problems with this article published in the New York Times today about doubting Mormons and wanted to point some of  the flawsand so I wrote this blog post.

However, more importantly it is important to emphasize that belief always requires an act of faith. One can read the exact same historical accounts, but if approached with faith rather than doubt the results will differ. The Jews in the wilderness quickly forgot the miracles and turned against Moses. The people of Jerusalem rejected the savior of the world. These things happen because those individuals failed to show faith. The people ignored the signs of the messiah, and therefore looked beyond the mark. They took negative things out of context and therefore missed the savior of the world.

Those that criticize the Church are often doing the same thing. They are taking a few negative examples out of context and therefore are missing the mark. The truth is that Joseph Smith was in fact a prophet, and the Church is inspired. Anyone can know this for himself if he turns to God and asks in faith. The truth of these things will be confirmed by the power of the Holy Ghost. I know that this for myself and even though I have long studied Church history what I read only confirms the truth that I know.

Here are some of my major concerns

1) The article fails to make it clear that leadership in the Church is volunteer based. Instead, it repeatedly mentions that Brother Mattson “followed his father and grandfather into church leadership.” Overall, this article just does not suggest that the author really took the time to understand how the church is structured or what leadership positions mean. This is also visible in the fact that the article does not really explain what an ‘area authority’ does

2) This article suffers from a confirmation bias. It suggests that there is a wave of doubt and disillusionment, but basis this mostly on the words of individuals who have already left the church. How big is this wave? If so big, why is it that the Church is still one of the fastest growing in the world. The article does not grapple with these tensions. Instead, it relied on an online survey which was promoted through the bloggernacle and is admittedly unscientific.

3) The article really suggests that the church is very secretive at one point saying that “top leaders commonly deliberate in private,” but a lot of the anecdotes in the article such as the large fireside in Sweden with two Church Historians suggests otherwise. It briefly refutes this idea with a quote from Richard Bushman talking about increased openness, but this is buried much further into the article and the main article emphasizes the secretive aspect far too much.

4) The article does not quote many people that are still believers of the Church aside from scholars. It quotes Elder Holland from a conference talk, but takes only a tiny bit out of context. There is a complete lack of alternative voices testifying of the truth of the Church. This is what happens when a reporter only bothers to question one side of an issue.

5) The article does not offer responses to any of the questions in raises…It instead suggests that leaders hide or deny these questions. By raising doubts but not providing a source of answers this article does readers a great mis-service.

6) The mention of the Mountain Meadows Massacre is especially misleading as it merely sas that “church leaders plotted the slaughter of people” without saying which or mentioning that Brigham Young had no connection to it.

7) The article mentions that Brother Mattsson’s stake president told him not to discuss his doubts. While it is possible that a stake president gave such advice, but then the article also mentions that the church actually sent two general authorities to address his concerns and that of other members. Unfortunately, the article forgets to mention that an area authority is higher in church leadership than a stake president, and that the stake president’s advice can best be considered exactly that…advice.

One year home from a mission

One year ago today I concluded my mission in the Russia Novosibirsk mission. One year ago, a sat in the mission office and had my final interview with my MIssion President. He lay his hands on my head and released me from my service. My MIssion President spoke about how grateful he was for my service and how much he had loved having me serve with him.As he did so, i felt so strongly that the Lord was proud of my service. In his house that evening, we spoke about the future and how I could move forward and continue to grow towards the savior. 

Looking back at the past year, I can’t believe all that has happened since then. I finished my first year of law school and got married to someone that I love dearly. I have grown in many ways in my faith and in my intellect. There have been moments where I have struggled and moments where old habits have threatened to destroy the progress I have made, and yet I am so grateful for all of the experiences that I have had this past year.

On Friday I sat down and was interviewed by Shira a graduate student at Yale doing her thesis on technology and missionary work. As I spoke to her, I recalled my conversion to the Gospel with great gratitude. Her father in an Chabbad Rabbi and as we spoke, I remembered my love for judaism and yet why I was unable there to find answers to the questions that plagued my soul. In the Gospel is truth and life eternal. There are good people of all faiths. Good Jews, Christians and Muslims, but I have confidence that the Gospel can bless anyone no matter who they are. It can make a bad person good and a good person better. It is the truth

Shira asked me why I thought that serving a mission was so more important than other kinds of service that one could give. I thought of the words of the Lord to the Witmers that the thing of most worth to them would be to preach the Gospel of repentance to all mankind: 

4 For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you.

 5 Behold, blessed are you for this thing, and for speaking my words which I have given you according to my commandments.

 6 And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen.”

As a missionary I was able to heal broken hearts and bring peace to those tempest tossed and discomforted. I saw the healing power of Christ’s Atonement first hand. I am so grateful for the time I spent serving in a portion of the Lord’s Vineyard. I am grateful to have been given a stewardship from the Lord. I am grateful that God blessed me with success and with incredible life-long friends.

 My mission meant everything to me. It was an experience that shaped my life. I would not be where I am now without it. I would not have the faith or testimony I have without it. My choice to serve will impact generations. 

I know that this is the Church of Jesus Christ and that it is the Lord’s work.